Ten Seconds to Hell (1959)
Director: Robert Aldrich
Starring: Jeff Chandler, Jack Palance, Martine Carol, Virginia Baker & Wes Addy
Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
From the director of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Ten Seconds to Hell takes place in the aftermath of WWII where a group of German demolition experts have been assigned the very dangerous duty of defusing unexploded Allied bombs. Karl Wirtz (Jeff Chandler, Broken Arrow), Eric Koetner (Jack Palance, Batman) and the rest of the group agree to a morbid pact where a percentage of their pay is added into a pool to be split between any survivors of their high-risk job. As stress and tensions mount, Wirtz and Koetner begin vying for the affection of Margot Hofer (Martine Carol, The French, They Are a Funny Race) making matters worse. Virginia Baker (Something Wild), Wes Addy (Network) and Robert Cornthwaite (The Thing from Another World) co-star.
Co-produced by Hammer Film Productions slightly before their outings with gothic horror would propel them to greater success, Ten Seconds to Hell is a postwar study that pits our characters in no safer conditions than during their wartime service. Returning home from the battlefields and offered the high-paying position of defusing bombs, Eric Koetner (Palance) is grateful but, equally cautious. Joined by their fellow soldiers, Karl Wirtz (Chandler) provokes Eric insisting he will outlive him in their new assignment. Before long, a decision is agreed upon for the small outfit to contribute half their pay to be awarded to whomever survives their defusing duties. Intelligent and genuinely concerned for the safety of his men, Eric is constantly at odds with the increasingly untrustworthy Karl. Moving into an approved boarding house maintained by the beautiful Margot Hofer (Carol), Eric and Karl’s personalities continue to clash as Karl’s drunken advances to Margot incenses Eric, revealing a genuine fondness for the widow. As several assignments result in fatal outcomes for their team, Eric and Karl must find a way to coexist and trust one another in order to survive.
Based on the novel “The Phoenix” by Lawrence P. Bachmann, Ten Seconds to Hell is endlessly tense as Aldrich commands the camera during the deactivation scenes with expert detail. In addition, Palance and Chandler’s conflicting personalities of a noble man and devious ex-soldier make for excellent drama in this period character study. Shot on location in Berlin, Ten Seconds to Hell offers haunting imagery of a war-ravaged city, exceptionally captured by Cinematographer Ernest Laszlo (Stalag 17, Logan’s Run). Containing sporadic narrations that carry a hokey, radio serial vibe, Ten Seconds to Hell’s only drawback is the forced love affair between Eric and Margot that feels wholly unnecessary as a means to create additional conflict between Eric and Karl. While, Martine Carol’s performance as Margot is admirable, Eric and Karl’s years of wartime experiences would have sufficiently painted a history revealing their quarreling friendship without the involvement of a generic love triangle. Nonetheless, Ten Seconds to Hell is a riveting picture with captivating performances and a suspenseful pace, leaving audiences on the edge of their seat.
Newly remastered, Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Ten Seconds to Hell with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. With the exception of noticeably scratchy stock footage during its opening credits, Ten Seconds to Hell possesses inky black levels and vivid detail in its black and white photography. Aging wrinkles and perspiration in closeups are clearly captured with only minor flakes and slight blowouts during sunnier, exterior shots making themselves modestly known. Nearly 60 years after its original release, Ten Seconds to Hell looks fantastic on high-definition! Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is surprisingly crisp with no overly intruding static to report. Other components including, the film’s score and bomb blasts offer appropriate contrast when implemented. Finally, a Theatrical Trailer (2:15) serves as the disc’s sole special feature.
Far less harrowing than most war pictures, Ten Seconds to Hell welcomes soldiers home with an equally dangerous mission that maximizes suspense and drama. Continuing to feel its effect in recent pictures such as 2008’s The Hurt Locker, Ten Seconds to Hell guides the viewer into the frightening reality of bomb defusing with less trust for those guarding your life. Jack Palance and Jeff Chandler offer assertive performances keeping viewers transfixed to the screen while, the tense defusing sequences leave nail-biting impact. Kino Lorber Studio Classics delivers Ten Seconds to Hell with a beautifully filmic video transfer and an approving sound mix. While, the finished film differed from Director Robert Aldrich’s original vision, prompting him to remove his name as producer, Ten Seconds to Hell remains a grim and powerfully suspenseful picture highlighting the high-risk role of bomb defusers.
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